Marx-Engels Subject Archive


The Materialist Conception of History: Selected Writings by Marx and Engels

Broad Overview:

The German Ideology

"The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature....Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.

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Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

"The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.

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>> Additional Readings in Overview


Particulars in theory and practice:

18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (abstracts)

Chapter One: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living...."

Chapter Three: "As against the united bourgeoisie, a coalition between petty bourgeois and workers had been formed, the so-called social-democratic party.... the revolutionary point was broken off and a democratic turn given to the social demands of the proletariat; the purely political form was stripped off the democratic claims of the petty bourgeoisie and their socialist point thrust forward. Thus arose Social-Democracy.

Chapter Seven: "France therefore seems to have escaped the despotism of a class only to fall back under the despotism of an individual, and what is more, under the authority of an individual without authority. The struggle seems to be settled in such a way that all classes, equally powerless and equally mute, fall on their knees before the rifle butt. But the revolution is thoroughgoing. It is still traveling through purgatory. It does its work methodically."

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Anti-Dühring (abstracts)

Part I: Philosophy
§ 1: The idea that all men, as men, have something in common, and that to that extent they are equal, is of course primeval. But the modern demand for equality is something entirely different from that; this consists rather in.....
§ 2: Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him, freedom is the insight into necessity. Freedom does not consist in any dreamt-of independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws.....

Part II: Political Economy
§ 1: Political economy, in the widest sense, is the science of the laws governing the production and exchange of the material means of subsistence in human society. Production and exchange are two different functions. Production may occur without exchange, but exchange -- being necessarily an exchange of products -- cannot occur without production.
§ 2: Private property by no means makes its appearance in history as the result of robbery or force. On the contrary. It already existed, though limited to certain objects, in the ancient primitive communities of all civilised peoples. It developed into the form of commodities within these communities.....
§ 3: The question at issue is how we are to explain the origin of classes and relations based on domination, and if Herr Dühring's only answer is the one word "force", we are left exactly where we were at the start.
§ 4: All religion, however, is nothing but the fantastic reflection in men's minds of those external forces which control their daily life, a reflection in which the terrestrial forces assume the form of supernatural forces. In the beginnings of history it was the forces of nature which were first so reflected, and which in the course of further evolution underwent the most manifold and varied personifications among the various peoples.

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Principles of Communism

"What is Communism? Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.
What is the proletariat? The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labor and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for labor....

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Manifesto of the Communist Party

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.... The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones..... All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.

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Compiled by: T. Borodulina for On Historical Materialism (Marx, Engels, Lenin),
Published: in 1972 by Progress Publishers in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
This revised compilation, with a new organisation, corrections and additions, was created by Brian Baggins in 1999-2000.